This research explored children’s experiences of learning mindfulness to help
develop their attentional skills. Mindfulness is a quality of awareness that may
be developed by purposefully cultivating an open, curious attitude of
acceptance with which to attend to events in the present moment (Bishop et
al., 2004; Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Certain practices may help cultivate this state.
Practicing mindfulness has been shown to improve attention and well-being
and decrease depression. Mindfulness practices may also help adolescents
with attentional difficulties (van der Oord, Bogels, & Peijnenburg, 2012;
Zylowska et al., 2008). Literature on children’s experiences of mindfulness
and mindfulness in schools and for children with attentional difficulties was
sparse. These gaps in the literature inspired the main research question:
What are children's experiences of mindfulness?
The research adopted a critical realist position at the methodological level,
creating a narrative on the participants’ experiences, and a transformative
approach at the sociological level, empowering the participants with skills for
developing their attention. A small-group Mindfulness-based Attention
Training (MBAT) intervention was designed and implemented in a mainstream
primary school. Six children (Year 5, aged 9), identified as having mild
attentional difficulties, participated in this intervention, during which they learnt
mindfulness practices and drew or wrote about their experiences. Before and
after the intervention, they were interviewed, during which the Child
Acceptance and Mindfulness Measure (CAMM) was completed to explore
potential changes in trait mindfulness. During the final interview, the children
spoke about their experiences of mindfulness, using their pictures as prompts.
Children’s experiences from the CAMM
The CAMM provided background information to the participants and their
attentional difficulties. No significant difference was found between the
children’s scores of levels of mindfulness before and after the intervention.
Children’s experiences through IPA
The research also developed an understanding of the participants’
experiences of the state of mindfulness. This data was analysed using
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Their experiences included
feeling calm, relaxed and happy and becoming aware of detailed physical
sensations and sounds. In addition during the mindfulness practices they
recalled past events, mostly happy ones, and imaginary ones with positive
associations. Later in the intervention, their experiences indicated emerging
detachment from thought processes and included metaphors for awareness of
the attentional processes and personalised strategies for developing skills in
sustaining their attention on present moment events with kindness.
The research had produced a comprehensive analysis of the children’s
experiences of state mindfulness. Its use of drawings had helped the children
to recall and express their experiences. Overall, there had been some
qualitative, but not quantitative changes in levels of trait mindfulness. The
participants’ had applied the practices, including being better able to
concentrate, sit still and focus on the teacher. They also preferred the bodyscan,
using metaphors and support to develop a personal practice. The
discussion included speculation on how mindfulness may address attentional
difficulties, such as distractibility, rumination and automaticity. It also
evaluated the methodology and considered implications for using mindfulness
in school settings and educational psychology practice.
The research made a unique contribution to understanding children’s
experiences of states of being including those reflecting emergent
mindfulness and their views on applying and learning mindfulness practices.